Developing the skill of strategic thinking
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Developing the skill of strategic thinking

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This paper examines the potential that flowcharts offer as a tool to teach strategic thinking.

This paper examines the potential that flowcharts offer as a tool to teach strategic thinking.

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Developing the skill of strategic thinking Developing the skill of strategic thinking Document Transcript

  • Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking By James NeilsINTRODUCTIONFor all organizations there are always opportunities and challenges. To reduce the potential impact of any challenge andto take advantage of every opportunity organizations need people at all levels who think strategically. Traditionallystrategic thinking is seen as the domain of upper management. Consequently there has been little importance given totraining staff for this important skill. Research findings confirm the poor performance by managers and executives to thinkstrategically.Although the market place is flooded with business seminars and consultants offering assistance, executives andmanagers are poorly trained to be strategic thinkers. Since upper management receives failing marks as strategicthinkers it should come as little surprise that staff is not taught this important management skill. Yet, if as the writers,seminars and business leaders attest, the skill to think strategically is so important, it is time for organizations to realignpriorities and recognize the need for future leaders and workers regardless of position to learn how to think strategically.This paper explores the option of using flowcharts as a starting point in the process of training all staff to become strategicthinkers.UNDER PERFORMING MANAGEMENTResearch reported in Strategy Magazine and data from studies conducted by Rich Horwath offer a disturbing outlookabout the ability of executives and managers to think strategically. A survey conducted by Strategy Magazine found morethan 50% of executives gave failing marks to their management teams to think and execute strategically. Horwathreported among hundreds of executives taking a 100 question strategic thinking assessment the average score was atthe 58 percentile. Not exactly the kind of ranking that would suggest executives have any right to claim primaryresponsibility for strategic thinking. Further, when measured against college students, the students out performedexecutives on a consistent basis. He postulated one of the main reasons for the student’s success was their willingnessto take risks, something executives and managers learned not to do to in order to maintain or further their careers.Sloan (2006) and a year later Goldman (2007) found evidence to counter the long held belief that the best strategicthinkers in an organization were at the executive levels. Additionally, their research found little basis to support the notionthat the task of thinking strategically was the exclusive domain for managers and executives. For managers andexecutives the first lesson to learn and accept is that strategic thinking is a learned skill not an attribute accompanying atitle. Since it is clearly not an acquired amenity to a position, strategic thinking should be part of any organization’s cultureand taught to staff as well as managers and executives.Consider how many organizations fail to emphasize consistent, monthly or even quarterly, strategic thinking sessionsdesigned to update current strategic plans. Instead organizations have come to rely on the once-a-year strategic planningretreat as the primary mechanism to facilitate strategic thinking. Retreats for strategic planning are not a bad idea. But,how participants in a once-a-year planning session who do not regularly engage in strategic thinking can suddenlybecome strategic thinkers for a few hours has never been adequately investigated or explained. Would anyone expectthese same participants without training and practice to finish a marathon much less set records? No different thanDeveloping the Skill of Strategic Thinking 11/18/2013
  • competitive athletes, those who aspire to become strategic thinkers need to first learn how to think strategically and thenengage in repetitive practice to improve the skill.Additionally, numerous authors have found, even in organizations that claim to value strategic thinking, corporate culturesinhibits a nurturing of strategic thinkers and/or rewards managers who follow safe and risk adverse decisions. Too oftenorganizations create and blindly follow step-by-step processes that impede creative strategic thinking. Anyone who raisesquestions, challenges assumptions and is resistant to sitting in meetings following a tedious step-by-step activity may becharacterized as not being a “team player.” While employees may be encouraged to “develop an insatiable curiosityabout the business” they also may learn it does not mean to actually consider new ideas, processes or direction sincethese are left up to “senior management which has a better handle on things.” The problem, as research has found,upper management often does not have a handle on things.While there is no shortage of books written about the reasons strategic thinking is important, writers have tended to focuson the personal attributes of strategic thinkers and on the characteristics of strategic thinking. Sloan identified severalfactors including informal learning, life experiences and intuition when combined with some level of analysis can lead toan individual learning how to think strategically. Focused more on the organizational attributes of strategic thinking,Goldman highlighted life experiences with family, education, work, mentoring, activities, risk taking as important, Ebersoleoutlined nine steps strategic thinkers typically follow while Johnson and Johnson of Changemaking Systems, LLC., raisedquestions a “coach” should consider when working with individual(s) or companies to enhance strategic thinking.Leadership roles in new projects, monitoring results and creating performance metrics as well as dealing with potentialbusiness survival issues are significant traits found in strategic thinking executives. But did these attributes causestrategic thinking or are they merely a reflection of how strategic thinking people behave. A key question Johnson andJohnson neglected to consider was whether coaches have developed their strategic thinking skills sufficiently to knowhow to teach others to think strategically.Authors have defined strategic thinking in a variety of ways. Rich Horwath noted in his book on strategic thinking “ DeepDive”, that strategic thinking for a for-profit company was “the generation and application of business insights on acontinual basis to achieve a competitive advantage.” Michael Gerber, “The E-Myth”, sees strategic thinking as aperspective about a business noting it “is not working in the business, but working on the business”. Ornoff commentedthat strategic thinking is a personal recognition and understanding that the person’s improved means or methods of workimproves the organization.Despite all of the books, seminars and workshops, the fact is, gauged by the numerous articles espousing the need forstrategic thinking, executives, managers and staffs have not learned how to be strategic thinkers. While learning thepersonal attributes or general behaviors of people who are identified as a strategic thinker may be helpful, it does notteach a person how to develop the skill to think strategically. Does anyone believe by learning the attributes orcharacteristics of successful mathematicians a person can solve calculus problems?Every day staff, managers and executives gather information and data, meet to decide a course of action and makedecisions. Executives in particular make decisions which are significant in scope and impact. Isn’t that strategic?Unfortunately, the answer is frequently no. For staff, managers and executives, the information, data and decision makingtends to be at an operational and tactical level and not strategic. An important lesson is to realize is that General DwightEisenhower, commander of all Western Allied Armed Forces in Europe, did not set the strategy for Allies. Rather his rolewas to successfully use the resources made available to him to achieve the defined and expected goals to win the war.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 21/18/2013
  • THE POWER TO QUESTIONTo think strategically a person must have learned the skill to question. A challenge for many managers and executives islearning to avoid the temptation to focus their thoughts and energy on finding solutions or answers. An important task inlearning to think strategic is to ask questions that lead to more complex thinking. Are we doing the right things to makethe business grow? Can we improve the business or service? Can we improve our connection to customers and be seenas having great value? These questions do not have immediate answers or even solutions. Strategic thinking is notabout asking what or how questions to find solutions but questions that stimulate more thinking.In Kenichi Ohmae’s work, “The Mind of the Strategist” he argues “successful business strategies result not from rigorousanalysis but from a particular state of mind.” (p.4) He notes strategic thinking is different and requires a skill set differentfrom those needed to solve operational issues and tasks. For Ohmae and others, analysis is not rejected but useddifferently. Ohmae believes that in the last few years with the heavy emphasis on data and “number crunching” the skill toask questions has been replaced by managers seeking solutions and answers.There are two critical reasons to learn to question. First, as often reported about Steve Jobs, he defined his role not onlyby what he accomplished, but by keeping the company working on the core elements of its business. An increasingnumber of CEO are learning, as Jobs did, that questioning an idea, possible product or a acquisition helps keep thebusiness focused on what it does best. When Frank Borman became CEO of Eastern Airlines he cut 75 vice presidentpositions after finding they had little role strategically other than sustain their positions. How many CEO and managerstalk about getting back to the basics which made them great, but then fail to engage in the process of questioning?Secondly, it is important to not only learn how to question, but to make it part of an organization’s strategic thinkingculture. Although architect Mies Van de Roe is credited with the concept of “less is more” the mantra should also apply inthe management of organizations. Howath compared raising questions to the practice to pruning plants and trees. To getflowers to blossom and trees to grow dead flowers or limbs need to be removed. He believes organizations need to dothe same.The need to question the allocation of resources, the usefulness of a product or services or the continuation of a serviceor product line should be an essential part of any for profit or non-profit organization. McKinsey & Co. surveyedthousands of major corporation executives to learn their views about resource allocation. Nearly one-quarter of theexecutives indicated they were funding, staffing and using resources on projects, services and or products that shouldhave ended. A CEO for a multinational company realized after flowcharting the company it had 44 distinct businesses forwhich he was responsible. He began to cut the underperforming and unprofitable ones and then had staff, money andresources to allocate to improve and make others more successful.In “The Strategy Paradox” Michael Raynor offers another compelling reason to question. While emphasis has alwaysbeen placed on the need for strategic think to counter sudden or acute changes in the marketplace, Raynor suggest thatchanges which occurs slowly over a long period of time may be more destructive. He argues that a strategy adopted tocombat slow change continues often without further consideration until such time that the strategic course selected can nolonger resolve the problem. Public pension funds offer an excellent example of slow change. This is not a suddencatastrophic event, the unfunded pension liability is decades old and well known. The course of action selected was todelay the funding. Unfortunately the delays have created a liability so large the only solution might be bankruptcy or atleast significant cuts in pension payouts and changes to contributions.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 31/18/2013
  • The skill of asking questions is not easily learned. From an early age children are conditioned not to question. Studentsare taught to find answers to problems with less emphasis placed to develop a keen intellect or the ability and willingnessto raise questions. A comparison between any elementary school classroom and a high school or college classroomdemonstrates the effectiveness to the conditioning toward finding answers. Young students are eager to ask questions asmost pre-school and even parents will attest. By the time they reach high school, students no longer question and arefocused on making sure they have the answers, or at least the correct answers for the upcoming test. Many collegestudents are reticent to ask any questions, whether fearing embarrassment or singled out as not understanding, evenwhen they fail to understand the subject matter.Strategic thinking involves the sort of questioning that evokes some measure of creativity; which is why in recent yearsthere has been such a great emphasis to teach executives and managers to think "outside-the-box." Why teach people tothink outside the box? In the quest to learn to think strategically, the process of asking questions actually has no limits.Managers and executives have learned to inhibit their expression of “crazy or off the wall ideas” to build barriers thathinder creative ideas and possibilities.People often have creative ideas, but have learned not to suggest them for fear of ridicule or subjected to criticalcomments about getting serious about the issue at hand. As Ohmae noted, most corporate cultures inhibit questioningand creative thinking, which certainly seems counter productive. New employees learn not to question or makesuggestions about improving processes, procedures or direction unless asked; which happens rarely. To the question ofwhy teach executives and staff to think "outside-the-box", it might be better to ask: why do they get "inside-the-box" tothink?Bilton (2006) noted creativity is often viewed as being characteristic of people who are individualistic, are not "team"oriented and/or are unmanageable. Browse any management section in a bookstore and the titles send a similarmessage - learn how to manage creativity to get the most out of it. Is that not a contradiction? The private sector andnon-profits spend considerable funds on programs devoted to teaching their executives and staff how to be creativethinkers, but at the same time often fail to recognize and reward them for unique solutions or ideas. Perhaps creativity isdesired, just not too much creativity.THE NEED FOR SPEEDOver the past few years the pace of business has accelerated as the impact of the Internet has increased the capacityand flow rate of information and advocacy. Social media, on-line movie streaming, blogs and consumer reactions hasincreased to the point that a small event or issue can quickly lead to immediate and substantial challenges for anyorganization. As a result, management must be strategically prepared and act strategically. The challenge for anybusiness is to be able to react as quickly as events move. Perhaps the fastest paced organizations are those involved inauto racing.What differentiates consistently winning racing teams from others since auto racing rules have standards about how carsand engines are built and assembled? With wining teams in auto racing, as it should be in most organizations, strategy isdiscussed and understood long before any race season begins. Selecting drivers (execs) is not just about who can putthe “pedal to the metal” and go fast. Team owners and leaders find drivers who have a burning desire to win but are alsowilling to spend time learning the characteristics of how the car and the tracks interact. They are looking for drivers whounderstand the value of practice laps at each track learning how to transition from the straight-a-way, when acceleration iscritical, to the turns, where finding “groove” is important. Drivers are looking for owners and team leaders who want to winconsistently and who listen to the team and driver input.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 41/18/2013
  • Racing enterprises such as Team Penske, which has a record of consistently winning, has learned team performance andadjustments prior to any race is critical. Numerous people gather data about tracks, tire performance, new tire designs,advances in engine and automotive technology, identify how to “set-up” the cars to fit the characteristic of each track andmeasure performance levels of crews and drivers. Team leaders (CEO) review and constantly train their crews, sincerules limit the number of crew (staff) “over the wall” when the car pits and how the entire team functions during the racesince fractions of seconds matter so much in racing.Race day provides little time for meetings to discuss changes or to create personnel procedures to make sure everyoneunderstands their role. Once the race begins everyone must have practiced and to know what to do, how to respondquickly, and to think quickly to fit changing car needs and race conditions. During the race the team leader, althoughsomewhat isolated above from the hectic activity below, is nevertheless constantly monitoring data from the car, gettinginformation and data about other cars and teams, evaluating changes in the race when crashes and yellow flags occur.Throughout the race the team leader is leading the discussion whether anything can be done to improve their position andif so what in the quest to take the lead to win.Why do some teams constantly win while others seem to be far off the lead lap and end up back in the pack? They havelearned to think strategically as a team. They have gathered data to improve their knowledge, questioned theirexperiences and considered new ideas, over and over again. Imagine during the off season no one bothers to ask asdoes Team Penske, Can we do better? Can we win consistently? Do we have the people and processes to becomebetter? Are other teams that much better that we are? True, in many organizations there is no “off season.” But, it is alsotrue that there may not be anyone asking strategic level questions. Setting the team goal to do better than last year ishardly strategic. Unlike most businesses that brag about their fast pace, in auto racing they mean it.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 51/18/2013
  • VALUING CONCEPTUAL MODELSWhat role do business models have in strategic thinking and who has time t o consider business models? Researchfindings confirm strategic thinkers schedule time to think and use a variety of business models.The reason to use the conceptual models and performance measures is two fold. First, research by Ciampas discovered,many executives lack a basic framework to aid their thinking. He found they had no plan or reference markers to use toidentify appropriate sources of information, data collection or to evaluate the usefulness of advice or information. In thelearning process it is important to provide some basic framework on which to build knowledge and understanding.Conceptual models also provide useful frameworks in which questioning can occur. Some of the best models also havethe simplest frameworks. SWOT and all its derivations have as few as four squares. Because models provide aframework, but not solutions or answers, they help to keep the focus on the importance of asking questions. Anincreasing number of helpful business models have emerged in the last decade. Unfortunately, they remain unknown tomany executives, managers and staff, particularly in the non-profit sector even though the models work for them as wellas those in the for profit business world.Second, conceptual models are easy to learn and implement. Most new staff members have had sufficient lifeexperiences to probably be able to distinguish between what may be an opportunity, threat, strength or weakness withinan organization. While their level of thinking may be relatively limited compared to more “seasoned” executive that is notthe point. The emphasis should be on learning a process and how to use business models to improve their ability to raisequestions and spark creativity. Imagine how creative and inventive many organizations could be if from the topmanagement on down the use of “business” models were standard practice. Of course for some top managers that wouldmean sharing credit for improvements, a hurdle some executives and managers seem to stumble on repeatedly.To demonstrate how models can help in thinking consider these simple models, Praedo’s Law, SWOT and the Law ofDiminishing Returns. Praedo’s Law, is a simple and efficient model used to quickly provide measurement for almost anyorganization. Briefly, it is an 80%-20% benchmark: 80% of profits come from 20% of the services or products. 80% of thecustomers require 20% of the care, while 20% of customers require 80% of the care and so on. Although constructed inthe 1800’s by an Italian mathematician studying distribution of wealth, it has been widely adapted to fit most organizations.Like all models it is not perfect, but for people new to models Praedo’s law is quick to learn, easy to apply and serves as agood performance measure.A second model, its use regrettably limited too often to strategic planning sessions, is SWOT. There are a number ofvariations to this model, but the basic elements remain the same, identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities andThreats at any given time for the organization. While the SWOT model is not usually thought of as being conducted on afrequent basis, people who are strategic thinkers probably use some variation of SWOT and other business models whilethey are thinking. They may not have even consciously thought about which model they want to use because the use hasbecome a routine part of their thinking.Another model and one which could convince executives that managers and staff need to become strategic thinkers is theLaw of Diminishing Returns (LODR). It can be used across the diversity of businesses, government and non-profits andfrom small to large organizations. Like other models LODR is not a predictor simply because there is no model toadequately or accurately predict future events, particularly now in the Internet age. But, as a method to raise questionsand stimulate critical thinking it serves a useful purpose. The recent crisis in housing lending is a good example of theLaw of Diminishing Returns.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 61/18/2013
  • Pushed by the Federal government to make home owning a standard for every American, some lenders offered easyterms with little concern about the risk of homeowner to make the monthly payment. The lure of the quick and easymoney was more attractive than turning down higher risks. While the model does not demonstrate all of the nuances andripple affects that occurred as a result of poor business decisions, it clearly demonstrates there was a point where the riskwould exceed the return on the investment. As the model below illustrates when loan risk was low the financial return forthe lender was quite high, but as the loan risk increased the Law of Diminishing Returns reached a point where lendersshould have ceased financing mortgages. Loan risk Financial lender return on investmentDeveloping the Skill of Strategic Thinking 71/18/2013
  • How does the LODR apply to organizations and strategic thinking? Consider what happens in any organization when onlytop management is engaged in strategic thinking. As information and data is sent vertically to top management it isfiltered and reduced, sometimes deliberately often times to simply minimize the volume of information and data available.When a limited number of people are solely responsible for strategy, and who do not see all the data, the risk toincorrectly interpret provided information and data increases. Error risk Information and data availableThis may also help to explain to executives and managers why, in today’s Internet environment, the speed of outsideforces to share information can outpace the speed of an organization’s internal communication structure. Thus, by thetime the organization’s management correctly assess what it should do or say, it is too late and they face additional issuesor sound out of touch with what is occurring thus compounding the initial problem.Models are not designed to predict specific issues or pose solutions. Models are useful to help teach and improve theskills to question, to think more creatively and to help develop the skill to think strategically.THE SUM IS GREATER THAN THE PARTSResearchers investigating how people learn have found that strategic thinking differs from “normal” thinking in a numberof ways. Strategic thinking is purposeful and focused. It follows a pattern or process and is not random thought. It occursat the conscious and subconscious level. People are often amazed to discover a solution when they stopped thinkingabout it. They “let it go” later realized the solution. That is an example of how strategic thinking functions. Strategicthinking is a level of thinking that cognitively brings together and assembles data and information with previous knowledgeand experiences so that when combined with creative thought and questioning can produce thoughtful ideas and logic.Writers have identified numerous elements fundamental to the strategic thinking process. For the purposes here as anintroduction six have grouped together into three component parts, similar is function yet different in how they contributeto strategic thinking: Data and Information, Knowledge and Assimilation, and Creativity and Vision.The first two, which some organizations over emphasize, is Data and Information. Information is not necessarily data anddata may not yield any information. While the collection of data and acquisition of information is a necessary condition forstrategic thinking there is a point at which data and information provides no useful purpose. The law of diminishingreturns supports such an assertion. How many people have labored getting more information only to realize it added littleto better understand the problem, the issue or the possible solution?Many organizations gather data without considering whether the data provides useful information or whether the collectionof the information serves any purpose, other than the collection of data and the gathering of information. As manymanagers and executives will attest, too many meetings are little more than the repetitious deliverance of data orinformation without meaning. Far too many meetings and conferences are obese with information while their attendeesare starving for knowledge to help them improve performance in their work or tasks.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 81/18/2013
  • The second two components are Knowledge and Assimilation. Knowledge is the result of thinking about the data andinformation and forming connections to provide meaning and useful purposes. Bellinger points out "While informationentails an understanding of the relations between data, it generally does not provide a foundation for why the data is whatit is, nor an indication as to how the data is likely to change over time." Knowledge results when data and information fitinto a thinking process that has meaning and usefulness to the individual.Knowledge must be connected to an action to be useful. This connecting of knowledge to action is Assimilation; definedas the application of knowledge into a useful purpose or action to cause change. When knowledge begins to beconnected into patterns or frameworks, which is then connected to previous experiences and current situations, theprocess of strategic thinking becomes possible.The third component includes Creativity and Vision. Writers on the subject of strategic thinking agree it is inherentlylinked to creativity. Innovation, changes in procedures or new approaches imply some sort of creative thought processhas occurred. Unfortunately, as noted earlier there are a number of barriers that can hinder creative thinking inorganizations.Vision is defined as the ability to imagine or consider something different. Granted operationally it may be difficult toactually carry out a new idea, process or produce a new service or product, but rejecting it outright shuts down theprocesses of considering workable solutions to new ideas and thoughts of what could be. Thankfully, NASA had peoplewho, when challenged to place a man on the moon, focused on what was needed to make it happen rather thanhighlighting the risks, the existing technology and the fact that it had never been done.The challenge for many organizations is to effectively translate the vision into workable solutions using the availableresources or developing new resources to cause the action to succeed. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan authors of“Execution” point out executives and managers need to better understand the importance of execution in order tosuccessfully carry out any strategic plan that results from strategic.The following graphic might help to illustrate how these components interact. When an individual brings the componentstogether to cause an interaction it provide the opportunity for strategic thinking. Creativity and Vision Strategic thinking Data and Information Knowledge and AssimilationEMPHASISING THINKING STRATEGICALLYSome companies are realizing the need to actually teach current executives and managers to think strategically. Theyhave begun to use simulation and business game playing as their teaching method. Game playing lets executives andothers engage in new ventures, new measurement techniques and risk taking that they might not do under real businessdecision situations. In much the same way that war games have been used in the military for years, business games helpteach lessons without the worry of ending a career, actual loss of profits or confronting personnel who are resistant tochange.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 91/18/2013
  • Can we teach people to be strategic thinkers? Do we need to teach new staff who supervise no one and who have littleexperience to become critical thinkers and capable to ask compelling questions? Can a staff member learn the skill tothink strategically when their more experienced and/or perhaps older managers and executives do not think strategically?The answer must be yes, since countless organizations, businesses and government spend untold dollars on courses,workshops and seminars with speakers about creative thinking, strategic planning, strategic goal setting and thinkingstrategically.Is it possible for young staff members to learn to assemble data and information combine it with experiences andknowledge apply creativity and vision to it to cause strategic thinking? Can they learn to do this continuously? Researchseems to support the notion strategic thinking skills can be taught and all organizations would benefit by having morepeople who think strategically regardless of the person’s position or title.Perhaps, as Ohmae and others have suggested we might be trying to solve the problem before thinking about the issue.Maybe we need to ask a different question. It is not whether people can learn to be strategic thinkers, rather are there arebetter ways to teach the skill of strategic thinking than has been done in the past? Perhaps what is needed are differentapproaches to teaching the skill. If, as Horwath suggested, the grade for strategic thinking among executives is at the58% percentile, it might be time to consider options in teaching methods.What is needed is a training process to help develop the skill to think strategically not just for executives, but staffincluding new staff. The process must have a framework in which the various components of strategic thinking interact.Further, it should be provide a useful purpose and not something without value to the user and organization. Finally, itmust challenge the user to think critically about how the organization functions, how resources are connected andassigned and where efficiency and changes could yield thinking that leads to more effective management and improvedorganizational outcomes. Perhaps developing functional flowcharts might be the first step in learning how to become astrategic thinker.Developing a flowchart requires thinking about data and information in a structured and logical order and can beaccomplished without the pressure of solving a problem or finding a solution. Flowcharts also provide the opportunity toview an organization, system or process as a collection of details and as part of a larger picture. While new staff mayconstruct limited or simple flowcharts, senior managers should be expected to visually identify complex relationships andwork flows. Developing flowcharts can help individuals, staffs and executives think about options or creating differentsystems or processes that may lead to changes in how operations are structured and how personnel are assigned. It alsocauses people to begin to ask questions about the organization and how it is organized and how it functions.FLOWCHARTSFlowcharts came into vogue in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s with the growth of computer technology. They served asa way to visually demonstrate the path for logical decision making that computer programs and more importantly theprogrammers required to write the coded instructions. The use of flowcharts to graphically represent decision processesexpanded beyond computer programming and is now used by numerous types of businesses.Even with the most sophisticated of applications, flowcharting has remained, unchanged in its core function: todemonstrate workflow and where decision making must occur. For this reason, flowcharting serves as an appropriateexercise to learn how to first think logically and then strategically. The logic comes from diagramming the operational workflow paths. Higher level thinking, which can later become strategic, occurs as the person thinks through the processesand begins to analyze how the system or parts of the system function and where systems could be improved.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 101/18/2013
  • A flowchart is relatively simple diagram: usually arrows and lines represent the work process and flow, squares representactivities and tasks and diamonds represent decision points. Admittedly there can be broken lines and subtasksindicating more complex routine, but these also follow the common graphic language patterns. Yet, for the purpose oflearning how to think strategically, the only thing that matters is to be able to graphically demonstrate work flow anddecision points. It matters little if decision points are diamonds or squares, or worry about the various languageconventions used in flowcharting. Flowcharts also offer a rich visual resource and a useful visual framework to aid intraining new or existing staff to begin how to think strategically.A word of caution about developing flowcharts is appropriate at this point. Flowcharting as a teaching method should notbe confused with developing exquisite or artistic multi-colored chart s. Doing so misses the intent of the process. Thepurpose in using flowcharts is to provide a visual framework that is for the most part easy to construct that can also help toraise questions and how the organizational functions through various processes. Emphasizing the look of the flowchartmisses the point. It is far better to have an executive diagram a flowchart on a scrap piece of paper and spend timethinking about the process, than create an attractive chart without spending much time thinking about whether it makesany sense at all.Developing a flowchart is not the end of the process only the beginning for several reasons. First, flowcharts tend to belinear and workflows while situations and issues are not. The process of flowcharting is a step to teach people within anorganization to ask questions. Can we do better? Is there a more efficient way? Is this all there is to the process? Thechart will not provide the answers but developing a flowchart will stimulate thinking about the organization how partsinteract or do not interact.A NEW METHOD TO TEACH STRATEGIC THINKINGTo demonstrate how a flowchart be used as a teaching method consider a new staff member of the American BusinessMuseum who has been asked to think about whether, not how, the Museum could improve its services to customers.Rather than looking at organizational charts or job descriptions, the new staff person begins by developing a simpleflowchart. In the course of developing the chart the first question that occurs is: Does the museum make it easy for peopleto enter and enjoy the museum? While considering that question a second question emerges. Is it possible for themuseum to improve its initial contact with visitors? Notice neither of these questions asks how, rather are Yes Noquestions which lead to more thinking not solutions. It is important for supervisors of direct reports and coaches ofExecutives and Managers to teach the importance to question not only find solutions or solve problems.Seen below, is the staff member’s first flowchart of the interaction between the visitor and the museum. Museum Visitor pays Visitor in exhibits Visitor Opens entry fee area until leaving exitsTo consider the question of whether the museum makes it easy for people to enter requires more information and morequestioning: What the different forms of payment the museum offers for entry by guests and members? Are membersprovided different options than general visitors? Should there be different options or different treatment for members?Investigating the payment options finds there are multiple methods and members utilize a member card and then beginsto expand the flowchart.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 111/18/2013
  • Checks Payment Credit cards Cash Member cards Gift Certificate or other form of paymentDeveloping the Skill of Strategic Thinking 121/18/2013
  • Looking at the recent additions to the flowchart, one could ask questions about the various forms of payment options. Which form is the most often used? What is the percentage of members to non-member visitors? Thinking more analytically one might want to know whether the cost for each process is different. It is important to remember that the flowchart is acting as a learning tool to help a person begin to think through processes, systems and to ask questions about performance, efficiency, effectiveness and cost to operate and manage. By not having to resolve an issue or to find a solution, the opportunity and importance to question comes to the forefront. Probing for more detail person may request assistance from other department personnel who are in someway involved with the admission process. In doing so, the flowchart begins to become more complex as an example below demonstrates. Yet, while becoming more complex, the flowchart remains visually easy to follow. Note: As yet there are no departments identified or decision points identified. NSF return NSF payee notification process process No ID’s Check staff initials, Checks with stamped put in reconciled Checks to Checks Check paid ID’s register at closing accounting deposited by Bank Patron Payment presented Individual(s) enters Museum Receipts sent Funds to accounting Reconciled Funds deposited in Credit Card Day CC bank card swiped Charges verifiedNew Card Card issuermethod of verified and processes MonthlyPayment charged payment statement produced Cash Card declined processNoadmittance Member card Gift Certificate or other form of payment Suppose, at this point the membership manager or CEO wanted to look at the flowchart, and after viewing it, asked the new staff person to develop a brief SWOT table. The result might be as simple as this: Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 13 1/18/2013
  • Strengths WeaknessesMuseum offers a variety of payments methods Variety of payment methods poses challenge for new staffMost payment options provides funds before entry into to learn quicklyMuseum NSF checks provides loss of revenue and possible increase in cost per ticket and staff time that could be better spent doing other tasks Opportunity ThreatMuseum point of entry is an excellent place to highlight Other museums offer web payment optionsbenefits of membership Other museums are considering smart phone paymentMuseum can use tickets and payment stubs to advertise options.membership Other museums have removed more costly optionsThe combination of the flowchart and SWOT may prompt more questions and in the teaching process raise the discussionfrom an internal review to a market level comparison of the museum and its competitors.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 141/18/2013
  • FLOWCHARTS AS A TEACHING TOOLThe advantage and the focus of flowcharting should be on teaching the staff member or executive to first look at what theorganization is doing or suppose to be doing and before considering anything else. What a flowchart can do, especially ifthe chart represents larger and more sophisticated processes is to focus attention on what happens and not initially onwhose responsibility it is to make it happen. The departments performing the tasks are important, but the reason to usethe flowchart is to facilitate developing the skill of strategic thinking.As a teaching tool, consider how much can be learned by looking at the last flowchart. Suppose as part of new stafftraining process they were asked to construct a flow chart and then were asked, What do you think about all of this? Theymight focus on the process, or identify new methods or simply question why it needs to be so complicated. Should it beso complicated? This is An excellent question and one that managers frequently confront. How could it be lesscomplicated? People who study and are certified as Six Sigma specialists confront these questions constantly as theywork to find solutions to make processes and operations better.The flowchart as developed could be used to teach staff from a number of departments about the interrelatedness of thework as they complete what may individually see as a repetitive of little value process. Consider how many departmentsmight be involved in this process directly or indirectly. From the flowchart developed suggests there would be staff from:Membership or Member Services, Security, Accounting, Maintenance, Sales and Marketing. If the museum is larger andmore compartmentalized it could even include Purchasing, Facilities or Operations, HR and even Development personnel.That is a fairly complex group, yet more and more companies and hopefully non-profits have realized the benefits ofdeveloping cross functioning teams.As a tool in the teaching tool flowcharting can also help staff and executives to understand the process of decisionmaking. Good decision making follows a process and the value of the elements identified earlier should be viewed in theircontext to their application to build a flowchart.INFORMATION AND DATAIt is important to remember first and foremost information is not necessarily data and data does not necessarily provideinformation. In today’s Internet and social media rich environment so there is so much information that it is difficult formost to make sense of what is useful. To build a flowchart the first requirement is to gather information and data.Identifying first what information and what data to collect is no small task. Next, the question of how much data andinformation needs to be explored.Once developed, a flowchart can serve as a mechanism to facilitate discussion about processes and operations. Againthe focus should be not on finding solutions, but asking questions. For example, what are the costs and benefitsassociated with all the payment options? What potential risk does each of these options pose for the museum? Is thereone method which adversely impacts staff training and retention cost? What are other museums doing regardingpayment of entrance fees? The focus should not be initially on finding answers but the asking of questions and determinewhich of the questions are most important..KNOWLEDGE AND ASSIMILATIONAs highlighted earlier, once information is learned and data gathered it must be connected and acted upon to be useful.Looking at this last flowchart think about the training time and cost for a new staff person to learn and be able to performall the payment process. Does the museum staff know whether the existing training procedures insure the staff canDeveloping the Skill of Strategic Thinking 151/18/2013
  • complete the steps needed for each payment methods? Do they need to know all options? Could the process bechanged to produce more effective and efficient process? These questions can serve as powerful starting points togenerate a wide range of discussion and possibilities to imagine. They can also be the starting point to learn to thinkstrategically on a regular basis.CREATIVITY and VISIONFlowcharts provide an advantage as a powerful teaching tool often missed, the value of visual representation. Considerthe difference between what is visually represented in the flowchart to a document that explains the same thing. Howmany people, including the best and most capable executive, would be willing to read what would be a volume of pages,compared to looking at the single page of a flowchart. Humans for their earliest moments are visually cued and theflowchart can help people “see” a process.A flowchart provides a visual representation of what is, but can also lead an individual to consider what could be. Lookingat the flowchart developed how easy would it be to make changes in the process? For the most part fairly simple.Consider what it would take to describe making the same changes but in text form. The flowchart as a teaching tool maybe able to stimulate people considering other options IF, the organization emphasizes creativity as a necessary function ofmanagement. As long as management encourages creativity, the vision to look at what could be will be more productiveto produce real change in an organization.Management including CEO’s might look at this same chart and use it to build a more cohesive staff and create animproved management model. Suppose, rather than having all of those typical departments, the museum staff wasassigned differently by combining personnel around functions rather than staff expertise and work. Instead of the typicaldepartments the CEO and management built a team called Visitor Experience. It could include the same staff memberseven those more remotely connected but all focused on providing customers with a great experience. This team would becharged with building and retaining members, making it easy for visitors to enter, experience and enjoy the museum,providing marketing and sales materials and the typical processing of member cards, charges and sales at variousmuseum outlets.STRATEGICALLY THINKING MANAGEMENTTypically at certain times of the day the waiting line and times for entry into many museums become long. In a typicalorganization Membership, Operations or whom ever controls ticket sales and entry is tasked to improve the flow rate.That department executive and perhaps some staff have a meeting and make decisions. Sound familiar, probably, but itwill it lead to strategic management?Using a more strategic team centered approach to the problem a new team is tasked to come up with a plan toaccomplish the following: develop a process to improve flow rate, make it easy for staff to adjust as needed,understandable to the customers and members while improving satisfaction, without spending considerable timeretraining of staff, and to do it at the least cost in facility changes and personnel. That is a considerable task toaccomplish yet with team properly assembled it is certainly doable, provided management has trained staff to thinkstrategic and not territorial.Or, like many others businesses, the museum management could simply let the customer deal with it, identifying it a oneof the cost of operations that the business and its management has to endure. That seems to be the least strategicdecision, but one frequently made by many businesses.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 161/18/2013
  • There is great potential for upper management to improve how they work and function as a team. Suppose upper levelsof management met regularly to review a more complex chart that included all of their combined work flows. Like a racingteam, rather than the responsibility of a manager to improve a department’s performance, the emphasis could be onwhether improvements can be made to the whole. As a team, the capability of the group to “see” opportunities expandsas does the possibility of some “out of the box” thinking. The emphasis should be to question what they see, not to findsolutions. By becoming comfortable as a group to question they develop a culture and model behavior that can transcendthe organization. By doing so, an organization can develop strategic thinkers at multiple levels and future leaders canlearn, practice and hone their skill to think strategically.CONCLUSIONWhile few would ever argue against the need for strategic thinking the evidence from research suggests the majority ofbusinesses, executives, managers and staff do not engage in strategic thinking or have been sufficiently trained. Whilenumerous books describe the attributes of strategic thinking, discuss elements or what make up strategic thinking, notmany have attempted to create a framework that can teach a person how to begin to think strategically.It would be a mistake to believe that flowcharts in themselves will lead to strategic thinking, but as a step in helping toteach a person how to strategically think it appears to be a worthwhile option. Is there more to strategic thinking thancreating charts? Absolutely, but without a framework and the discipline to follow of process or some sort, strategicthinking will most likely remain an objective not an action. Strategic thinking will not occur as a result of sitting in meetingsfor the purpose of holding discussions or reaching a decision.In an effort to maximize efficiency most organizations are built around department structures. While helpful in many waysthese same departments become competing elephants when trying to produce a product or provide a service, and can bea hindrance in responding to a crisis. Further they often lead to the reduction of strategic thinking rather than enhancingthe effort to produce strategic thinkers. No wonder there are small sparks that result into raging infernos that requiresignificant effort by everyone in the organization to respond.The question many managers and executives need to consider is whether strategic thinking will become a priority forthem, for their organization and for their staff? When will they clearly and succinctly define a strategy, review their tactics,hold practice sessions for their “pit” crews and for their “drivers” to improve their performance as a team? When will theteam learn to think strategically both individually and as a team? Can you imagine the pit crew member responsible forfilling the car with gas making a decision about how to speed up pit action without consulting everyone else? In mostbusinesses and organizations that is what happens.The potential for strategic thinking exists in most individuals. The challenge is to recognize and embrace the idea thatstrategic thinking will not limit a Board’s, an Executive’s or Manager’s responsibilities or talents. What teaching andemphasizing strategic thinking may do is lead to greater recognition and appreciation of the organization’s ability and skillto recognize and utilize the skills possessed by the greatest resource it has, its personnel. To teach staff, managers andexecutives to become or improve their strategic thinking skills, flowcharts offer one method that ought to be considered.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 171/18/2013
  • BibliographyCorporate Lifecycles, How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do About I t; Ichak Adizes,Adizes Institute Book, Prentice Hall, 1988Leading At a Higher Level , Ken Blanchard, Blanchard Management Corporation, Prentice Hall, 2007Can Boards of Directors Think Strategically”? Some Issues in Developing Direction-Givers Thinkers toa Mega Level , Bob Garratt, Performance Improvement Quarterly, Hoboken, 2005, Vol. 18, No. 3.Deep Dive, Rich Howath, Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2009Developing Strategic competencies: A starting Point , Keith Ornoff, Information Management Journal, Lenexa,July/Aug 2002, Vol. 36,Developing strategic thinking as a core competency Ingrid Bonn, , Journal of Management Decision, EmeraldPublishers April 2001 No. 1 Vol 3 pp. 63-70Developing Strategic Thinking skills: What are the core competencies of Strategic Thinkers?, Dr. FaridMuna, Innovation and Improvement.com, May 5, 2011.Execution, Dave Bossiday andThinking strategically at every step , Elaine Yin, Training and Development in Australia, Surrey Hills, Oct. 2010 Vol.37 Issue 5.Strategic Actions for Learning How to Think Strategically, According Your Strategic Thinking BusinessCoach , Glenn Ebersole, Ezine Articles, March 21, 2008.Strategic Thinking , Changemaking Systems, LLC., http://www.changemakingsystems.com/strategic_thinking.html,John Johnson and Molly Johnson.Strategic Thinking – The Meaning Behind the Buzzword , Stever Robbins, Stever Robbins, LLC., Blog postingAug, 2011.The E-Myth, Michael Gerber,The Mind of the Strategist, Kenichi OhmaeThe Strategy Paradox , Michael RaynorThe Value of Knowledge Management, Business and Organization, Knowledge Management , GeneBellinger, www.systems-thinking.org/index.htm, p2. 2004,Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 181/18/2013
  • What is Strategic Thinking Center for Applied Research, , Briefing Notes, CFAR, Cambridge, MA, 2001,www.cfar.comStrategic thinking for information technology , Bernard Boar, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1997,A Piece of Advice , Associations Now, Scott Briscoe, American Society of Association Executives/Center forAssociation Leadership, March 2007, Vol. 3, No. 3. pp. 46-49.Strategy MagazineDeveloping the Skill of Strategic Thinking 191/18/2013
  • Mr. Neils’ career includes management and executive positions in for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Early in his career, he returned to academia and became interestedin researching organizational goals, performance measures and financial returns on non-profit organizations. Although his published works are often directed toward non-profits,his concepts and analysis are equally applicable to for-profits as well.As his career progressed, Mr. Neils recognized the day-to-day demands on executives,especially managers’, were most often at the tactical decision level, leaving little time toimprove or develop strategic skills. As a result, he developed a keen interest in strategicthinking.His first work was Using Conceptual Models to Improve an Executive’s StrategicThinking. This paper was a theoretical exploration of conceptual models and strategicthinking. Adapting Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Social Needs” Mr. Neils examinedhow internal and external forces act on organizations and executives.Following that, he began to investigate how executives might integrate creativity as away to improve strategic thinking skills. This second article Creativity, StrategicThinking and Statistical Models questions how commonly used statistic models andcreativity might aid an executive’s and staff’s skill to think strategically.Because of the interest generated from these articles, he began to investigate howmanagers and executives learned to think strategically. His research found mostemphasis to be on attributes of strategic thinking people and the need to think strategic,but little on teaching methodology. This prompted, Developing the Skill of StrategicThinking in which he suggests flowcharting as a possible method to teach staff, managersand executives to become strategic thinkers.Mr. Neils’ recently completed, What non-profits can learn from the Obama Campaignargues the need for non-profits to improve their use of data and data analysis and makesspecific recommendations to follow.Mr. Neils belongs to several LinkedIn groups on non-profit management, strategicthinking and performance measures. He can be reached at James.neils@gmail.com andskype at James.neils1 and sponsors a Twitter page called nonprofitsage.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 201/18/2013
  • Mr. Neils’ career includes management and executive positions in for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Early in his career, he returned to academia and became interestedin researching organizational goals, performance measures and financial returns on non-profit organizations. Although his published works are often directed toward non-profits,his concepts and analysis are equally applicable to for-profits as well.As his career progressed, Mr. Neils recognized the day-to-day demands on executives,especially managers’, were most often at the tactical decision level, leaving little time toimprove or develop strategic skills. As a result, he developed a keen interest in strategicthinking.His first work was Using Conceptual Models to Improve an Executive’s StrategicThinking. This paper was a theoretical exploration of conceptual models and strategicthinking. Adapting Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Social Needs” Mr. Neils examinedhow internal and external forces act on organizations and executives.Following that, he began to investigate how executives might integrate creativity as away to improve strategic thinking skills. This second article Creativity, StrategicThinking and Statistical Models questions how commonly used statistic models andcreativity might aid an executive’s and staff’s skill to think strategically.Because of the interest generated from these articles, he began to investigate howmanagers and executives learned to think strategically. His research found mostemphasis to be on attributes of strategic thinking people and the need to think strategic,but little on teaching methodology. This prompted, Developing the Skill of StrategicThinking in which he suggests flowcharting as a possible method to teach staff, managersand executives to become strategic thinkers.Mr. Neils’ recently completed, What non-profits can learn from the Obama Campaignargues the need for non-profits to improve their use of data and data analysis and makesspecific recommendations to follow.Mr. Neils belongs to several LinkedIn groups on non-profit management, strategicthinking and performance measures. He can be reached at James.neils@gmail.com andskype at James.neils1 and sponsors a Twitter page called nonprofitsage.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 201/18/2013
  • Mr. Neils’ career includes management and executive positions in for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Early in his career, he returned to academia and became interestedin researching organizational goals, performance measures and financial returns on non-profit organizations. Although his published works are often directed toward non-profits,his concepts and analysis are equally applicable to for-profits as well.As his career progressed, Mr. Neils recognized the day-to-day demands on executives,especially managers’, were most often at the tactical decision level, leaving little time toimprove or develop strategic skills. As a result, he developed a keen interest in strategicthinking.His first work was Using Conceptual Models to Improve an Executive’s StrategicThinking. This paper was a theoretical exploration of conceptual models and strategicthinking. Adapting Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Social Needs” Mr. Neils examinedhow internal and external forces act on organizations and executives.Following that, he began to investigate how executives might integrate creativity as away to improve strategic thinking skills. This second article Creativity, StrategicThinking and Statistical Models questions how commonly used statistic models andcreativity might aid an executive’s and staff’s skill to think strategically.Because of the interest generated from these articles, he began to investigate howmanagers and executives learned to think strategically. His research found mostemphasis to be on attributes of strategic thinking people and the need to think strategic,but little on teaching methodology. This prompted, Developing the Skill of StrategicThinking in which he suggests flowcharting as a possible method to teach staff, managersand executives to become strategic thinkers.Mr. Neils’ recently completed, What non-profits can learn from the Obama Campaignargues the need for non-profits to improve their use of data and data analysis and makesspecific recommendations to follow.Mr. Neils belongs to several LinkedIn groups on non-profit management, strategicthinking and performance measures. He can be reached at James.neils@gmail.com andskype at James.neils1 and sponsors a Twitter page called nonprofitsage.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 201/18/2013
  • Mr. Neils’ career includes management and executive positions in for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Early in his career, he returned to academia and became interestedin researching organizational goals, performance measures and financial returns on non-profit organizations. Although his published works are often directed toward non-profits,his concepts and analysis are equally applicable to for-profits as well.As his career progressed, Mr. Neils recognized the day-to-day demands on executives,especially managers’, were most often at the tactical decision level, leaving little time toimprove or develop strategic skills. As a result, he developed a keen interest in strategicthinking.His first work was Using Conceptual Models to Improve an Executive’s StrategicThinking. This paper was a theoretical exploration of conceptual models and strategicthinking. Adapting Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Social Needs” Mr. Neils examinedhow internal and external forces act on organizations and executives.Following that, he began to investigate how executives might integrate creativity as away to improve strategic thinking skills. This second article Creativity, StrategicThinking and Statistical Models questions how commonly used statistic models andcreativity might aid an executive’s and staff’s skill to think strategically.Because of the interest generated from these articles, he began to investigate howmanagers and executives learned to think strategically. His research found mostemphasis to be on attributes of strategic thinking people and the need to think strategic,but little on teaching methodology. This prompted, Developing the Skill of StrategicThinking in which he suggests flowcharting as a possible method to teach staff, managersand executives to become strategic thinkers.Mr. Neils’ recently completed, What non-profits can learn from the Obama Campaignargues the need for non-profits to improve their use of data and data analysis and makesspecific recommendations to follow.Mr. Neils belongs to several LinkedIn groups on non-profit management, strategicthinking and performance measures. He can be reached at James.neils@gmail.com andskype at James.neils1 and sponsors a Twitter page called nonprofitsage.Developing the Skill of Strategic Thinking 201/18/2013